What began a year ago as a request from the four island mayors to solve the off-island traffic bottleneck at 119th Street and Cortez Road West — which frequently backs up vehicles to and from the beaches during season — turned into an evolving story the week before Easter.
The bottom line is the Florida Department of Transportation will present options for what is labeled Cortez Road Safety Improvements at a public hearing 5-7 p.m. Tuesday, May 9, at the Cortez Road Baptist Church, 4411 100th St. W., Bradenton.
Mayors from Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key drafted a letter in March 2016 to officials of the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization, the DOT, Manatee County and other key agencies, requesting “low-hanging fruit” traffic solutions.
David Gwynn, DOT director of operations, said April 14, in furtherance of that request, the department made an April 5 scenic highway joint presentation in Bradenton Beach, calling for elimination of the left turn onto 119th Street West from Cortez Road West.
But 119th Street West provides access for two busy restaurants, the fishhouse docks and a boat repair business as well as the Florida Maritime Museum on the south side of Cortez Road.
Gwynn called the April 5 plan “most likely unworkable” based on new data gathered the week of April 10. DOT officials also spoke to business proprietors on 119th Street West.
Last week’s traffic study indicated a one-day count of 60 left turns from Cortez Road south onto 119th Street — four times the turns counted in 2014.
“So, we have to look at that again,” Gwynn said, adding “a second thing that’s occurred.”
The county is determining if it can convert the county-owned Florida Maritime Museum property into a right of way, he said.
“Then what we would do is tie in a “plus (+) intersection,” Gwynn added.
DOT’s backpedaling began soon after Manatee County Commissioner Steve Jonsson relayed the scenic highway presentation to Cortezians — attendees at the April 8 Cortez community picnic.
Jonsson said, “I thought, this is a dumb idea,” adding he wanted to see what his Cortez constituents thought. He went to the event, where the picnickers agreed, “it’s not going to solve the problem, but make the problem worse.”
Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage vice president Jane von Hahmann predicted an end to Cortez businesses April 10 if such a plan is carried out.
Von Hahmann sketched her idea on a Google Earth aerial, aligning 119th Street through the Florida Maritime Museum property and presented it April 10 at the FISH meeting.
Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore picked up on the Cortez controversy from David Zaccagnino, who distributed the von Hahmann plan from the Cortez meeting to some of his contacts.
Whitmore said April 13 she had relayed it to county public works director Ron Schulhofer.
April 10 the three options on the table were:
- Leave the signal as is.
- Remove the signal and restripe the roadway from the 119th south leg to the existing median east of the intersection as a two-way left turn lane.
- Modify the signal to only control the northern leg. Upon completion of the south leg of 119th Street, turning would be restricted to right in/right out. The north leg would be designed to restrict to left out and right in/right out.
Gwynn said the DOT has a $3.7 million budget for safety improvements in the Cortez Road West corridor from 86th Street West to 123rd Street West.
He said a median between 119th and 123rd streets would provide “lots of left turn options,” a pedestrian crossing and additional bike lanes.
According to an April 14 Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization news release, the project is “generating controversy in the Cortez community.”
The 119th Street options will be presented at the MPO board meeting at 9:30 a.m. Monday, April 24, at the Holiday Inn Sarasota/Bradenton, 8009 15th St. E., Sarasota.